Her Dark Heart by Carla Kovach ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

Rory is waiting at the door of the pre-school – a painted picture of his mother Susan in his small hand. But Susan isn’t going to see the picture, because she has vanished.

Susan Wheeler is a devoted mother. She would do anything for her three children. She drops them off and picks them up every single day. Until one day when Susan kisses them goodbye and then never comes to pick them up.

Susan’s mother Mary is worried. Susan is recently divorced and has been finding things hard recently, but she loves her kids – she’d never leave them.

Susan’s sister Clare is furious. It’s just like her to go missing. It’s not the first time either. Susan has always been a troublemaker. Always seeking attention. She knows Susan has been lying to the family for years. And she knows that Susan has been sneaking out of her family home for weeks…

As the hours turn into days, even Clare becomes fearful for Susan. And when Mary discovers Susan’s diary, she begins to uncover a dark secret from her childhood. Something no one in the family knew. When the  final diary entry leads the police to a man who is discovered dead in a local park, they’re left wondering if Susan vanished because she is a victim. Or because she is a suspect.

MY REVIEW:

She’s done it again. This is another winning installment in the Detective Gina Harte series. Gripping, tense, thrilling and unputdownable, I flew through it in under a day. 

Susan Wheeler is a devoted mum to her three children. She’s going through an acrimonious divorce but it is out of character when she not only doesn’t turn up to collect her youngest child, two-year-old Rory from pre-school, but also doesn’t come home that night or the next day. Her mother Mary is worried but her sister, Clare, and ex-husband, Ryan, think it’s a bid for attention. Finally, Mary calls the police and Gina and her team are assigned to the case. 

There are few clues but Susan’s diary leads them to a man who was possibly the last person to see her before she disappeared. But he’s found dead, having been brutally beaten and tortured before he was strangled to death. Is Susan a victim or did she have some part in this man’s death? The team keep digging but the missing pieces of the puzzle seem to elude them and Gina gets the sense there’s things the family aren’t telling her. It’s a race against the clock to put the pieces together, get to the truth and find Susan before she or someone else turns up dead. 

Her Dark Heart is the fifth book in this series and it lives up to the high bar that’s been set in the others. While knowledge from the other book does help with things like Gina’s backstory and character relationships it is still possible to read this as a standalone. The author is skilled in writing twisty crime fiction full of relatable characters and bad guys that make your skin crawl. 

Some of my favourite parts were from the chapters narrated by our mystery perpetrator. He was sinister, repulsive, delusional, and is determined to inflict his wrath and revenge for what happened all those years ago; though we don’t yet know what occurred. These chapters revved up the tension and had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to figure things out. There were a plethora of suspects but I couldn’t predict who he was or exactly why he was doing this. I did manage to guess part of it correctly but I was still blindsided by the revelations that came as we reached the jaw-dropping finale.

As with the author’s other books there are deeper themes running through this book than what appears on the surface. This time it’s secrets. Susan and her family are all harbouring various secrets and Gina is facing the emotional consequences of secrets she has kept for decades. While the Collins family’s secrets have led to Susan’s abduction and threaten to tear their family apart, Gina is missing her mother and feeling she has no right to grieve for not being there when she died because of the invisible chains her abusive late husband kept her in and how keeping the abuse secret led to their estrangement. It shows us how secrets can snowball, with devastating and catastrophic results.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys crime fiction and police procedurals. If you haven’t read the previous books in the series then check those out too. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Out today.

Blog Tour Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Today is the first day of the blog tour to celebrate the release of what’s been called “the most spellbinding debut novel of 2019” in paperback and I’m excited to share my thoughts. Thank you to Compulsive Readers Blog Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bonnier Zaffre for my gifted copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

SYNOPSIS:

In a time of suspicion and accusation, to be a woman is the greatest risk of all…

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn’t supposed to from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and prove the physician wrong.  

As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the north-west, Fleetwood risks everything trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?

Soon the two women’s lives become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

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MY REVIEW:

The Familiars is one of those books that is a work of sheer beauty. I was in love before I’d even read a word and could tell that reading it was going to be an experience. And I was right. It was lyrical, atmospheric, addictive, extraordinary and simply breathtaking; the story every bit as beautiful as the book.  I devoured it within a day – living within its pages and drowned in its words. A remarkable and unforgettable debut novel that was a joy to read. 

“The king has muddled wise women with witchcraft.”

Based around the true events of the Pendle Witch Trials, the author has blended fact and fiction to create a masterpiece. Though beautiful, it is also a dark story of prejudice, injustice and misogyny. It reveals how women were penalised for what they knew and helping others through things like midwifery. The men in charge were threatened by this and called what they did witchcraft so they could round them up and charge them with a crime where they’d created the perfect outcome – death whether you were guilty or innocent. The book also explores why so many women charged with witchcraft would confess and the lengths the witch hunters would go to in order to “prove” someone guilty. 

The novel also showcases other realities of life for women of that era. So much was expected so young and at just thirteen Fleetwood was married to her second husband,  without any say in the matter. At seventeen she’s pregnant with her fourth child and worried for her position if she doesn’t provide her husband with an heir. It was a sobering reminder of how little autonomy women had at that time over their bodies and their lives, and that their position was always precarious and dependent on men. I found it fascinating when Fleetwood observed that while she is seen as lucky to me married to a man with money and have her own household, poor women actually have more freedom – they are free to choose a husband out of love and aren’t traded as a way to climb the social ladder. I imagine no one would ever have expected Fleetwood to envy Alice’s position in life and it’s a reminder that things are all about perspective. 

“At four feet and eleven inches, everyone I met was taller than me, though I did not intimidate easily.” 

I loved Fleetwood. She is formidable, fierce and a fighter. I loved that she didn’t let her size stop her and coming in at four feet and nine and a half inches myself, I felt an affinity and solidarity with her from the start. She is a woman ahead of her time in how she sees the witch trials and I admired that she didn’t feel she could sit idly by and not do something; though I do think she finds this strength to act because Alice is her friend and midwife rather than a stranger. My heart broke for her losing three babies before we meet her and for all she had been through at such a young age. It must have been terrifying for her to be pregnant and not really know anything about childbirth except that a lot of women don’t survive. When I learned that she was based on a real person I fell in love with her even more and plan to find out more. 

“I felt the baby move, and was aware at once that while all three of us were here and alive now – Alice, the baby and I – one day very soon we might not be, and there was no way of telling which of us would make it.” 

I really  liked the strange friendship that grew between Fleetwood and Alice. At the beginning of the book, Fleetwood is  lonely and wants nothing more than to have a friend she can confide in, so she found what she needed twofold when she met Alice – a midwife and a friend. Alice is a more mysterious character but we do know she is strong, loyal and kind. I always got the sense she genuinely wanted to help Fleetwood.  Their relationship was the heart of the story and I felt more invested in it than any other relationship in the book. The author had me on tenterhooks time and again as the women put themselves on the line and remained steadfast in their support of one another. 

The Familiars was my 100th read of the year and is definitely in my top ten for the year. I was enchanted by the author’s flawless storytelling and was instantly transfixed. The agony, apprehension, fear, rage and determination dripped from every page. It is a gem of a novel that I urge everyone to read. 

Paperback out September 24th

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor. The Familiars is her first novel. You can find her on Instagram @staceyhallsauthor and Twitter @stacey_halls

The Familiars

As part of the media campaign for the paperback release of The Familiars, Stacey has asked people to use the hashtag #FWordsHavePower and share their powerful F words.  Below is an excerpt from her email:

Some of the most powerful words in the English Language begin with ‘F’. My debut novel The Familiars has F-words in abundance! For a start there’s Fleetwood, the main character, who is female and fiery, and her friendship with Alice, who may or may not have a fox familiar. There are themes of feminine fury, fates intertwined, failure . . . you get the idea.

These are the F words she shared to describe the novel: 

She asked us to share our own F words on social media. My F word was almost Fibromyalgia because it colours so much of my life, but instead I chose the word that describes who I’ve been since before I was born: 

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Comment below with your F word (keep it clean lol).

Blog Tour Review: ‘Here To Stay’ by Mark Edwards ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for the sensational new novel from Mark Edwards. Thank you to Amber at Midas PR for my invitation to take part and to Amazon Publishing, Thomas & Mercer and Mark Edwards for my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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SYNOPSIS:

A beautiful home. A loving wife. And in-laws to die for.

Gemma Robinson comes into Elliot’s life like a whirlwind, and they marry and settle down into his home. When she asks him if her parents can come to stay for a couple of weeks, he is keen to oblige – he just doesn’t quite know what he’s signing up for. 

The Robinsons arrive with Gemma’s sister, Chloe, a mysterious young woman who refuses to speak or leave her room. Elliot starts to suspect that the Robinsons are hiding a dark secret. And then there are scars on his wife’s body she won’t talk about.

As Elliot’s in-laws become more comfortable in their new home, encroaching on all aspects of his life, it becomes clear they have no intention of moving out. To protect Gemma, and their marriage, Elliot delves into the Robinsons’ past. But is he prepared for the truth?

From the two million copy bestselling author comes a tale about the chilling consequences of  welcoming strangers into your home.

Here To Stay Book Jacket

MY REVIEW:

Another nail-biting, chilling tale of domestic noir from the man that Jennifer Hillier has rightly crowned “The King of domestic horror”. 

Elliot Foster and Gemma Robinson meet one summer afternoon. She saves his life after a near-fatal bee sting and they fall hard and fast, marrying just two months later in Vegas. Elliot couldn’t be happier. 

A few weeks after their wedding Gemma tells Elliot that her parents are moving back to the UK and asks if they can stay with them for a few weeks?  Wanting to make his new wife happy, and to meet his new in-laws, Elliot agrees. It will be the biggest mistake he ever makes.

This book is AMAZING! It started off slowly and while I was enjoying it, I didn’t foresee just how horrifying, mind-blowing and simply incredible it would become. Though, this being Mark Edwards I am also not surprised. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of this author. Ever since I first read The Retreat last summer , which I loved the nod to in this novel, I haven’t been able to get enough of his books. The Magpies trilogy is considered his greatest work, and it’s antagonist, Lucy Newton, is one of the greatest villains I’ve read. But this story and it’s villains give them both a run for their money.  

Do you think you’ve got the in-laws from hell? Well Elliot’s are probably worse. I know I’d happily take my awful ex-mother-in-law over them any day! Jeff and Lizzy Robinson are two of the most despicable, repulsive, noxious, contemptible, foul and vile people I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading about. They turn Elliot’s world upside down and inside out. They seem determined to not only take his home but destroy his entire life. It got me so angry reading how they behaved. Do you remember how in Roald Dahl’s The Twits it says that if a person has ugly thoughts it begins to show on their face, and they become uglier and uglier until you can no longer stand to look at them? Well that quote sprang to mind while reading about this couple and I imagined them getting uglier as the book went on. They’re such terrible people it seems like it would have to leak out from the inside and show on their faces. 

Elliot is the all-round nice guy. He’s worked hard and made a good life for himself, runs a non-profit working with underprivileged kids, thinks of others, is kind-hearted, and has finally met the woman of his dreams. Then the Robinsons threaten to take it all away. He gives them the benefit of the doubt over again, tell himself his suspicions are crazy and finds rational explanations for things. And every time they do something even worse. I didn’t judge Elliot for some of his fantasies about what he’d like to do to them. I understood. How could you not loathe such toxic people.

The Robinson siblings are the mysterious characters, especially Chloe who is deathly ill and locks herself away when they first move in. They all seem frightened of their parents are secretive about their childhood and what exactly has happened to make them all so scared. Though Gemma and Elliot are married it was all so fast he barely knows her, or her past, and as the story unfolds he realises just how little he knew before making such a big commitment and inviting her family to stay with them.

I don’t want to give any details away as the shocks add to the escalating horror and brilliance of this book. I highly recommend this edge-of-your-seat thriller; just be warned that it’s a turbulent ride. And another thing…be careful who you invite to stay in your house. They just might never leave… 

Publication Date: September 1st. Available to buy from your favourite bookseller.

Mark Edwards

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

He has sold more than 2 million books and topped the UK bestseller list eight times.

His titles include The Magpies, Follow You Home and The Retreat. His next book, Here to Stay, will be published on 1 September 2019.

Website: https://www.markedwardsauthor.com/

Facebook: Mark Edwards Books, Instagram:@markedwardsauthor and Twitter: @mredwards

 

Review: ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy Paperback Publication Day to the lovely Sara Collins and one of my favourite books this year.

SYNOPSIS: 

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, stands trial for their murder.

The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may even be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie has the chance to tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

REVIEW:

“I would never have done what they say I’ve done, to Madame, because I loved her. Yet they say I must be put to death for it, and they want me to confess.But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?” 

This remarkable debut novel is one of those books that reaches into your soul. Forbidden love, secrets, lies, obsession, madness, brutality, rage and murder. This book is filled to the brim with them all and takes you on an unforgettable journey as alleged murderess Frannie Langton tells her story. 

The Mulatta Murderess is what the papers have called her. But her name is Frannie Langton. The former slave is standing trial for the murders of her Master and Mistress, George and Marguerite, but says she couldn’t have done it because she loved her mistress. But that’s all she will say. She offers no evidence of her innocence, nor any defense. Instead, she writes her so-called confessions that tell the story of her life from her beginnings on a Jamaican plantation to the present day as she awaits judgement.

“Reading was the best thing and worst thing that’s happened to me.”

I loved the use of Frannie writing her own story and how it wasn’t chronological. The switches in the timeline skillfully wove the past and present together in a way that felt fresh and compelling. It also increased tension, foreshadowed events, and kept us guessing while also answering some questions in piecemeal. The excerpts of trial testimony sporadically inserted into the book were the perfect way to provide flashes of another perspective while showcasing the many prejudices and uphill battle Frannie was facing in her case.

This story deals with many important and hard to digest issues from the era, such as slavery. Though as a house girl Frannie is spared things such as working in the fields in the searing heat each day, she is still treated as less than human. And when Miss-bella, her Mistress on the plantation, decides to teach Frannie to read and write she feels lucky and doesn’t heed the warnings from Phibbah, another slave, that an educated negro is a threat to the white man. But she soon learns Phibbah was right. Reading the appalling brutalities that Frannie and other slaves are subjected to is hard at times but it is an important and potent part of her narrative. 

“I was all anger. Anger a drumbeat. Anger,  steady as rain on glass. Anger, like a hot spurt of blood from a wound.”

At an author event I attended back in May Sara Collins said, “novels for me come from characters” and talked about how she didn’t have a book until she knew her characters. This is evident for me in what a complex and wonderful character Frannie is. She’s honest, raw and flawed. She’s brave and intelligent. She refuses to be told what her life will be and dreams of more. Perhaps the most prolific part of Frannie’s narrative is anger. She talks about her rage at being looked down on, when she witnesses injustice and at being told she can and will only ever be a slave. She is very self-aware about her anger and there are times she’s ashamed of it, but overall she owns and accepts her rage, even seeming to be fuelled by it. You see it present in varying ways throughout her life and I have a lasting image of her hands cramping into fists by her sides. With all this anger you’re probably thinking she’s obviously guilty, but what I love about this book is it turns so many assumptions on their head. As you read it isn’t so hard to imagine that maybe she didn’t do it. Most of the time I understood her fury and thought I would have felt the same in her shoes. 

The other characters in this novel are all equally well written. While her Masters were very different, they were also both vile, evil men who mistreated her and I despised them both. She had a very different relationship with each of her Mistresses: Miss-bella was someone I loathed but also pitied at times. She taught Frannie to read but knew the danger that brought and she still mistreated her in other ways. Madame Marguerite was the woman Frannie loved and who she claimed was in love with her. She is a selfish and self-indulgent character but other than that I found myself vacillating between many feelings about her over the course of the book as although Frannie is in love with her and clearly worships her, as an outsider you see how she manipulates, uses and even puts Frannie in danger by her actions. 

“My life began with some truly hard things, but my story doesn’t have to, even though nothing draws honesty out of you like suffering.”

Though this is one of my favourite books I’ve read this year, I’ve found this review hard to write. So much happens and it’s hard to know what details to give without spoiling it and to eloquently describe how this book made me feel. But I needed to write this review, to tell others about this incredible story.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton shows us the worst of humanity but also some of its kindness. We see loneliness, hopelessness, desperation, brutality, anger and death, but also strength, hope, love and passion. It’s a haunting, beautiful, somber, eye-opening, emotional and penetrating story that gives a voice to those that have been forced to remain silent and muted. At the time the book is set people of colour were seen as less than human and race is a big part of this story, but for me, this is overwhelmingly a story about what it means to be human. How the differences in our skin don’t change the way we feel, love or dream. And a reminder that how the way we treat others says much more about ourselves than anyone else. 

Sara Collins’ debut novel is a masterpiece and is not only one of my favourite books this year, but ever. She deserves every bit of the accolades and recognition coming her way. It’s been two months since I finished it and I still find myself often thinking about Frannie and her story. I also can’t stop telling people they should read it. I definitely fell a bit in love with the imperfect but wonderful Frannie and her story and am going to be the first in line for a ticket if I get my dream and they make it into a film. 

Out now.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Collins studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years. In 2014 she embarked upon the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University, where she won the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize of Re-creative Writing and was shortlisted for the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Prize for a book inspired by her love of gothic fiction. This turned into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

 

My Sentimental Book Stack

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I was tagged by @diaryofabookmum & @silverliningsandpages on bookstagram to create a #sentimentalstack and enjoyed doing it so much that I decided to post it on here too.

𝓣𝓱𝓮 𝓓𝓸𝓵𝓵 𝓕𝓪𝓬𝓽𝓸𝓻𝔂 & 𝓕𝓻𝓪𝓷𝓷𝓲𝓮 𝓛𝓪𝓷𝓰𝓽𝓸𝓷 – these were the books from the first author event I went to since starting my bookstagram account. It was such a special moment that I’ll never forget.

𝓣𝓱𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓵𝓸𝓻 𝓟𝓾𝓻𝓹𝓵𝓮 – The first book my other half bought me for my first birthday together. He bought me purple themed gifts and didn’t know I’d always wanted to read this book

𝓜𝔂 𝓢𝓲𝓼𝓽𝓮𝓻’𝓼 𝓚𝓮𝓮𝓹𝓮𝓻 – the first book I read by one of my favourite authors Jodi Picoult.

𝓣𝓱𝓮 𝓦𝓲𝔃𝓪𝓻𝓭 𝓸𝓯 𝓞𝔃 – A favourite childhood book and the start of a lifelong obsession.

𝓜𝓪𝓽𝓲𝓵𝓭𝓪 & 𝓣𝓱𝓮 𝓑𝓕𝓖 – two of my favourite childhood books that evoke good memories.

𝓘𝓷 𝓒𝓸𝓵𝓭 𝓑𝓵𝓸𝓸𝓭 – I read this as part of my English A Level. It was the first true crime book I read, before this it was only magazine articles. It instantly struck a chord and cemented my interest in true crime.

𝓕𝓵𝓸𝔀𝓮𝓻𝓼 𝓲𝓷 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓐𝓽𝓽𝓲𝓬 – I first read this as a teen and have read it many times.

𝓐 𝓣𝓲𝓶𝓮 𝓣𝓸 𝓚𝓲𝓵𝓵 – my first John Grisham book. He’s been a favourite author of mine ever since.

What would be in your sentimental book stack? Comment below.